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SCOTUS will decide limits on developing evidence for federal habeas claims

Shoop v. Twyford, USSC No. 21-511, cert granted 1/14/22; SCOTUSblog page (containing links to briefs and commentary)

Questions  presented:

1.  28 U.S.C. §2241(c) allows federal courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus ordering the transportation of a state prisoner only when necessary to bring the inmate into court to testify or for trial. May federal courts evade this prohibition by using the All Writs Act to order the transportation of state prisoners for reasons not enumerated in §2241(c)?

2.  Before a court grants an order allowing a habeas petitioner to develop new evidence, must it determine whether the evidence could aid the petitioner in proving his entitlement to habeas relief and whether the evidence may permissibly be considered by a habeas court?

After filing a federal habeas petition, Twyford sought a court order compelling his prison warden to transport him to a state hospital for neurological testing, under a funding statute and under the All Writs Act. He argued that the testing related to 6 of his federal habeas claims.

The 6th Circuit held that under the All Writs Act a district court may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of its jurisdiction. This includes the order for Twyford’s transportation to the hospital for testing related to habeas claims. In contrast, the 3rd, 7th, and 9th Circuit hold that courts may not use the All Writs Act to order a prisoner’s transportation for evidence gathering purposes.  See Jones v. Lilly, 37 F.3d 964, 967–69 (3d Cir. 1994); Ivey v. Harney, 47 F.3d 181 (7th Cir. 1995); Jackson v. Vasquez, 1 F.3d 885 (9th Cir. 1993).

On the second issue, the 6th Circuit held that a district court may issue an order allowing a federal habeas petitioner to develop evidence for his case whenever the evidence in question “plausibly relates” to a petitioner’s claims. Even inadmissible evidence can satisfy this “plausibly relates” standard.  In contrast, the 9th and 10th Circuits hold that habeas petitioners cannot engage in discovery to obtain inadmissible evidence. Lafferty v. Benzon, 933 F.3d 1237, 1245 n.2 (10th Cir. 2019); Runningeagle v. Ryan, 686 F.3d 758, 773–74 (9th Cir. 2012). Don’t hold your breath for a defense win on this issue.

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